Comfort, beauty, interior quiet, and room coupled with great gas mileage arrives in the form of Toyota’s new Avalon Hybrid sedan.
Gone are the days where funky looking hatchbacks reminiscent of Woody Allen’s pod in Sleeper are the only vehicles available as hybrids. For the 2019 model year Toyota relaunches its full-size sedan, the Avalon, in hybrid mode. The result is noteworthy.
Most hybrids are quiet given their electric power at low speeds, but the Avalon feels like a legit luxury sedan, quiet on the highway and roomy enough for five adults and their luggage to meander around the countryside at their leisure.
The restyling here gives the Avalon a much edgier shape instead of the rounded land barge look of so many full-size sedans. There are even low air dam/chin spoiler and tail diffusors here to give the car a sportier edge than you’d expect.
I drove a great looking opulent amber (sparking metallic brown/bronze) that looked every inch a luxury machine. This was the Limited edition, meaning top-of-the-line with a price tag to match at $45,118. XLE (base) and XSE models are available starting at $37,420 and $39,920 (including delivery). The test car started at $43,720 and touted few options.
While the base gas-powered Avalon features a 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, up 30 horses from earlier models, the hybrid clocks in at about 215 horsepower from its 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle (more fuel efficient) gas-powered I4 coupled with a hybrid system’s electric motor. Power is sufficient around town and the car cruises well on the freeway, delivering an estimated 43 mpg in both city and highway driving. I got 41.3 mpg in more than 300 miles of driving, including a trip to Madison with four adults aboard.
Electric power takes the car up to about 15 mph and then cuts over to the gas-powered I4, which gives a little growl and grumble at the crossover between the power sources. It’s not too annoying, but you’ll notice the switch most of the time.
Acceleration seems lackluster after the switch and the harder you push the gas pedal, the more the engine grumbles. As with most vehicles, it’s best to be smooth on the accelerator at all times to relieve some of that perceived engine stress. Shifting is smooth and luxurious from the automatic electronically controlled continuously variable transmission.
Ride is superior due to the car’s 113-inch wheelbase and well-tuned suspension. If in your repertoire of car experiences you have an image of a Buick ride from earlier years, this is akin to that.
Handling though is good, not sloppy as in many older full-size cars. Road feedback seems good and the wheel is a touch on the heavy side, but responsive in Normal drive mode. There’s also an Eco mode to further aid gas mileage. This allows smart coasting where the car uses its regenerative brake system to help recharge the car’s 240 nickel-metal hydride battery cells. A Sport mode further firms the wheel to the point of being too heavy. Normal mode is the best bet here.
Inside, the test car featured a handsome black over saddle brown leather interior. Seats were a caramel saddle shade of leather with the dash black with a dark fake wood trim atop the dash and doors. There was a quilted saddle insert in each door and the steering wheel was a dark brown and saddle mix.
Punch the dash’s start button and the driver’s seat powers forward and the power tilt/telescope steering wheel adjusts to its preset height. There are two memory settings for the seats too. Both front seats are powered and have heated and cooled cushions while the rear seats are simply heated. The steering wheel also is heated, a big plus in winter.
Four of us drove to Madison in this and the interior is quiet enough that conversation was easy, despite our aging ears. Everyone commented on the seats’ comfort, front and rear, although crawling from the somewhat low rear seats was a bit of an effort. Let the kids and younger crowd sit in back if you’re traveling.
One oddity we noted, the center rear seat is sensitive to weight being placed on it, assuming a person is seated there. With just a heavy purse on the seat it set off the seatbelt warning system, indicating the middle passenger (the purse) was not properly strapped in.
Toyota’s dash design is simple and easy to see and understand, plus the infotainment screen is a 9-inch touchscreen that’s simple to use. There are volume and tuning knobs too on either side. So many car makers totally blow the infotainment system, making them devilishly hard to tune while driving. Toyota is not one, although its luxury brand, Lexus, has some issues.
Overhead is a power sunroof and shade and the sun visors both flip to the side and slide.
Toyota doesn’t scrimp on safety equipment, its Safety Sense system is standard and includes pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane departure assist, automatic high beams and smart cruise control. Smart stop technology, providing emergency braking when an obstacle (usually a slow or stopped vehicle) is in the way is standard too, while cross-traffic alert along with ABS, blind-spot monitor and an anti-theft system are included.
The test car added an advanced safety package with intelligent clearance sonar, a snazzy bird’s-eye-view camera with perimeter scanning and a braking system that is triggered by the rear cross-traffic alert. All that adds $1,150 to the car’s price.
Not surprisingly the trunk is big, a full 16 cubic feet. You’d think that might be down from the gas-only powered Avalon. But no, Toyota has put the battery cells under the rear seat to keep the trunk full-sized, like the car.
That gas-powered Avalon, by the way, comes in four trim levels from the base XLE to the top-level Touring. Pricing runs from $36,420 to $43,120 for starters on those. The XSE and Limited are the other models. All feature 301-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engines with EPA mileage ratings starting at 22 mpg city and 36 mpg highway for the XLE.
Better equipped models usually see their EPA fuel figures dip a bit as each trim level’s equipment adds more weight.
The tested Avalon hybrid only added a carpeted mat package for $248, and that safety package to end up at $45,118. For 2019 Toyota readjusted its hybrid pricing, so the hybrid models are now just $1,000 more than strictly gas-powered Avalons. That means the hybrids are actually a little less expensive for 2019 than the 2018 models.
Certainly there are some fine driving and riding full-size cars still on the market. The recently reviewed Chrysler 300 is one, plus its cousin, the Dodge Charger.
But refined, luxury sedans that also are hybrids with extended gas mileage are not quite as common. If that’s your wish, the Avalon is a fine, and refined, choice.
Hits: Attractive edgy design, roomy, nice big car ride, good handling. Quiet interior, heated/cooled seats, heated rear seats and steering wheel, sunroof, good dash layout, big touchscreen, seat powers back and wheel tilts up for exit, great gas mileage and full complement of safety items.
Misses: Modest acceleration and some engine groan as it transitions from electric to gas power.
Made in: Georgetown, Ky.
Engine: 2.5-liter, 4 cylinder/hybrid, 215 horsepower
Transmission: ECVT automatic
Weight: 3,715 lbs.
Length: 195.9 in.
Wheelbase: 113 in.
Cargo: 16.0 cu. ft.
MPG: 41.4 (tested)
Base Price: $43,720 (includes delivery)
Advanced safety package (intelligent clearance sonar, bird’s-eye-view camera w/perimeter scan and rear cross-traffic alert w/braking), $1,150
Carpet mat package, $248
Test vehicle: $45,118
Sources: Toyota, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage